The Indian subcontinent has been a center of religious and spiritual activity since time immemorial. This land has been the birthplace to several major religions that spread across the Globe, and one of those religions is Jainism. It is an ancient Indian religion that traces its history long into the Before the Common Era (BCE).
The rise of Jainism can be attributed as a response to the rise of materialism in the later Vedic age. Jainism advocated a simple, puritan lifestyle and wanted to go back to the ascetic order. Jainism’s spiritual roots can be traced back to their belief in twenty-four tirthankaras or teachers. Rishabhdev was the first tirthankara and is believed to have laid the foundations of an orderly human society. Vardhamana Mahavira, a contemporary of Gautam Buddha, was the twenty-fourth tirthankara. Just like Buddha, he broke away from the confines of the world and became an ascetic. He wandered and meditated in search of truth and achieved kaivalya (loosely translated as detachment from desires). He began to be known as ‘Mahavira’ (great hero) or Jina.
Mahavira disseminated his ideas for thirty years during which he established a religious order where both men and women were admitted. Jainism was not able to create a mark in north India initially due to strong Brahmanical influence. However, it spread gradually in southern and western parts of the country. Chandragupta Maurya (332-298 BCE) adopted Jainism and spent his last years as a Jain monk. This event is considered as one of the milestones in the historical spread of Jainism. Although Jainism did not receive state patronage at a greater scale, it continues to have followers in the Indian subcontinent. On a global level, there are large groups of followers of Jain Dharma in Canada, USA and Europe.
The philosophy of Jainism relies on five main principles, these are:
◙ Non-violence (ahimsa),
◙ Truth (satya),
◙ Not stealing (asteya),
◙ Celibacy (brahmacharya) and
◙ Non-Possessiveness (aparigraha).
Ahimsa is the most important doctrine as a consequence of which war and even agriculture was prohibited since it involved killing of living beings. The existence of God is recognised in Jainism but the status of Jina, the one who has attained freedom from worldly bonds, is placed higher than God. It is a trans theistic religion wherein the world is perceived to be eternal, not created.
The core spiritual aim of Jainism is to break free from the materialistic world through ‘right knowledge’, ‘right faith’ and ‘right action’. These three doctrines are considered as Three Jewels (triratna) of Jainism. Jainism believes in the cycle of rebirth, a key feature of spirituality unique to the Indian subcontinent.
Jains are divided into two sects namely, Digambar and Shwetambar. Two hundred years after the death of Mahavir, Magadha was struck by a famine. In order to protect themselves, many Jain monks travelled towards the southern part of the country under the leadership of Bhadrabahu. The rest stayed back under the leadership of Sthalabahu. Upon the return of the monks who had moved south, conflict among the two sects developed. Those who went to south India under the leadership of Bhadrabahu came to be known as Digambars while those who stayed back in Magadh came to be known as Shwetambars.
According to Jain philosophy, the cycle of time is divided in two halves, and in each half there are twenty-four Tirthankaras. In the present cosmic age, Lord Rishabhdev is considered as the first Tirthankara, believed to have laid the foundations of an orderly human society. Out of the twenty-four Tirthankaras, Jains predominantly worship four, they are Lord Mahavira, Lord Parshvanatha, Lord Neminatha and Lord Rishabhanatha. Among the non-tirthankara saints, devotional worship is common among the Digambaras for Lord Bahubali, the son of the first Tirthankara Lord Rishabhanatha. The sects of Digambara and Svetambara have different depictions of idols of the Tirthankaras. The Digambara sect images are naked without any clothes or ornamentation, whereas Svetambara ones are clothed and decorated with temporary ornaments. The images are often marked with the symbol of ‘Srivatsa’ (an ancient Indian symbol considered as auspicious) on the chest, and with Tilaka on the forehead.
Famous Temples and Institutions
Jainism shares its earliest architectural heritage with Buddhism in the form of rock cut caves like those in Udaigiri, Aihole, Badami and Ellora. With the progression of time, Jain temples came to resemble Nagara style (in North India) and Dravida style (in South India) architecture of Hindu temples. They are known as Derasar in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and Basadi in southern parts of the country.
Dilwara Jain Temple, Rajasthan
Considered as one of the most impressive Jain temples, Dilwara or Delwada temple complex draws scores of Jain pilgrims and general tourists every year. It is a complex of five Jain temples, located at the hill station of Mount Abu. It is known for the intricate white marble carvings which makes it one of the most important examples of Maru-Gurjara architecture.
Kulpakji Jain Temple, Telangana
Kulpakji also known as Kolanupaka temple was Built 2000 years ago, Kulpakji temple holds immense historic significance. Prevalence of Jainism at Kulpakji can be dated back to 4 CE. Jain inscriptions dating back to 12 CE have been found at the temple. The temple houses idols of three tirthankaras – Rishabhdev, Neminath and Mahavira. It is built in the Dravida style of architecture and flourished as a centre of Jainism during the reign of Rashtrakutas.
Nagarpakar Jain Temple, Pakistan
The temple complex consists of abandoned Jain temples as well as a mosque. They were built during the period of 12 – 15 CE, a time when Jain architecture was its peak. It served as a pilgrimage site for centuries but later lost its importance due to a shift in centres of economic activity. The temple complex was nominated by the Pakistani government to be included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2016.
Jain festivals usually celebrate key events from the lives of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras and their teachings. A few of those festivals are mentioned below.
Considered as one of the most important festivals of Jainism, Paryushana Parv is a festival of repentance, forgiveness, and new beginnings. It seeks to dispel the karma accumulated over the year and start afresh. Jain monks observe strict monastic discipline, fasts and meditative practices to intensify their spirituality. The festival is celebrated for 8-10 days and a procession is taken out on the last day to mark the attainment of moksha by Vasupujya, the twelfth tirthankara.
Mahamastakabhisheka refers to the anointment ceremony of the Bahubali Gommateshwara statue in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka. It is held every twelve years and draws a huge gathering from across the world. It was last held in 2018 and the next ceremony is touted to be in 2030. Gommateshwar statue is the tallest monolithic statue in the world depicting Bahubali, son of the first tirthankara, Rishabhdev. He is worshipped for his display of exceptional qualities during his lifetime.
Jainism’s spiritual ideas of non-violence and non-attainment embellish the idea of a peaceful society, an ideal that all of humanity is working towards. Even as an ancient religion, it recognised these ideas and embedded them into a religious fabric. Following the idea of ahimsa in its totality, the only conquest in Jainism is the spiritual conquest over desires and worldly bonds.